this should be more, a more lambent exomologesis of madrid. but this is not complete.
if it were the words would be wet to the touch. there would be noise and movement, lights between the letters humming softly. you would smell soapy water on cobblestones in the gaining morning while standing in front of large windows staring at slightly sheared pork legs. you would feel sunshine and breeze between shadowshuffled buildings blowing dust at cross streets and watch as it cyclones and does one, two turns on the corner and moves on into the crowds. there would be color and laughter, the echoes of talk over tables or counters of food, the taste of bread dunked in wine late at night after singing old irish drinking songs in the metro to the unimpressed across the tracks as trains squealed into the station. you would feel the bronze bite of a famous poet beneath purple neon lights in the heart of the city as you lean against him and look down the curving corridors of streets bleeding in more light and sound, but you had already been to the cervantes monument earlier that day under open sky between tall buildings and saw purple strands of light sifted between the outstretched fingers of don quixote as he reached for the sun in his small dirt garden of olive trees.
you would have a nowheretogo pace on saturday afternoon drinking wine and eating meatballs as you read a book written a hundred years ago about a different part of the country, an old man would spill his coffee down a counter and stain its pages, the man would be very upset by this, becoming vocal and dramatic, cursing as he makes a huge scene about his coffee until a replacement is put in front of him for his troubles, the pages of your book would still be stained after you dab them with drying towels you would grab from the servers station, keeping silent as you try to minimize the damage because imagine his reaction to your property being irrevocably ruined, he probably couldnt stand the thought, but soon a plate of chorizo and potatoes is given to you from the bartender and who cares about literature when theres food?
you would lightly step on the fine gravel of downwinding paths below the templo de debold in sight of the palacio real and the cathedral, both cliffside and imposing over the valley basin below where the buildings ebb to brown earth and hipsofwomen hills all along the horizon till the sierra de guadarrama with snow crested peaks cloaked in descending clouds that grizzleblur the berm of land and sky or enjoy quiet minutes sitting on a bench in a small park off of the viaduct littered with long flat seedpods dropped from the trees around you watching a girl balance on the guardrail at the edge of a fiftyfoot dropoff as her friend takes photos, from there though you would see the cathedral and the same mountain range miles behind but you would rather follow small birds as they burrow into the trees with your eyes and like always time gets away from you and is anybody else hungry?
it should have the break of dusk in the plaza tirso de molina and its buildings colored as though they were built from the sides of canyons, the ground tones wrapped with wrought iron terraces all crowded with hanging plants in pots, the torn posters reflecting the constant traffic and the shouts of salesmen with their bootleg dvds and a seemedsense seeps in that the city wasnt erected by human hands, more grown from the surrounding dirt hills and low shrubs and then the streetlights come on and cast an amber glow that showers more than it shows the everywherenoise, the barks of dogs and the revving of motorcycle engines, the loud steps of people wearing sneakers on the old stone, the laughing of smokers standing on a small patio as dark windows alight above the red neon signs of cafés or strung up balls of white lights that hem the overhangs like pearls in the desert behind thick trunked trees with thin scraggly branches missing leaves, the constant chorus of contrast between the doldrum building faces and the streaming color begging for attention scored by chalkboard scratching of skateboards grinding on concrete benches. you would get the feeling that it/s almost not worth seeing the sun in this city.
this is not entire.
it would have the love at first smile from a ravenhaired aisling crooning the language of ocean waves, offering arroz con leche but you cant make eye contact let alone express yourself in her language properly so you would accept the food and tell her she sounds of the earth and should be carved in marble, that she is like long drawling violins drowned out by the orchestra and so what if she doesnt understand because her glasscutting smile fills her face and youre back to staring at the bar, wondering why you would ever want to go home without a workingclass broken heart in a forgotten bar where plastic plants sit in front of mirrors and have orange lights shining through the branches. the scent of salt should creep in through barely opened windows early in the morning as the tires of slowly passing cars on the flat cobblestone street bleat below drying laundry hanging on clotheslines strung between the buildings swaying in the warming sunshine. you would feel the shoulders of others cramped around counters for breakfast and you would have café con leche and churros or tostada catalan and you would hear the crumple of discarded sugar packets piled on the linoleum floor as you step on them getting back to the grind of blocks with crosswalk signs that sing like ballading birds.
there should be more hunger. more confused looks during pidgin conversations in tiny bars of old men and daytime game shows where nothing is discussed at great length and done mostly through hands gestures, but youre in luck because they understand the universal dialect of pointing and saying please and thank you, sometimes the electric gambling machine in the corner would interrupt your orders with flashing lights and pinball noises as sexualized halfnaked cartoon women parodying charlies angels show up on the large screen, youre better off throwing your money against the wall because the rules are made for children and youre on your way out anyway to watch the watertrucks spraying down the streets as they patrol the winding plaza aton martin around the bronze statue of several people interlocking arms over shoulders as cars emerge from the underground to join the pulsing arteries of the city into the downward feeling of offshot neighborhood streets with iron ballasts outlining the sidewalk, barely giving room for police cruisers with silent blue lights to fly down the curved chutes of buildings early in the darkened morning.
there should be more walking. much more. long nowhere walks of grey stone streets and hiddenaway community gardens with gazebos built from lashed together driftwood and the small red and purple flowers of yet grown vegetables in rowed plots tucked into the nook behind buildings muraled with thirty foot bulls and lions rushing to the corner of their canvas. there should be a roundwrung weariness, accrued aches earned in between cafés and pop up flea markets in outoftheway plazas where children kick soccer balls against the surrounding buildings or following the wayward streets of record stores and indian restaurants, farmacias and tobacco shops, small convents and older mosques, memorials of angels randomly placed on the slender sidewalks, empty retail stores that all have fifty percent off sales, empanada stands and tall sticks of meat rotating on vertical spits for shawarma, people standing on the doorsteps of bars resting their drinks on wooden barrels as they smoke, images of oscar wilde made from tiles that adorn irish pubs with enormous bottles of jameson upside down in dispensers behind the bar, bakeries smelling of alcohol and the museo de jamon with marbled pink pork legs in the window, the winter air outside of the reina sofia beneath the glass elevators rising and falling along the exterior of the museum and you would try to go into the royal music conservatory in the same plaza but not get much further than the threshold so instead you shout shakespeare in an openair amphitheatre beside the observatory to empty benches of grass and stone where a man tunes his djembe and over the lip of the seats sit the carbon colored rooftops of madrid beyond a stockyard hugging the faces of the shallow valleys.
there should be a bounding loneliness on calle melancolias beneath the shade of the vincente calderon futbol stadium after having breakfast of café con leche and a sweetened croissant and mancilla smeared on crusty bread in a bar because the address you were looking for is just a city block worksite of opened earth but thankfully there are other incorrect streets with similar names you can hang around, sitting on the walls of dirt parks or walk along the shallow manzanares and watch novices try their hand at rollerblading over the pedestrian iron suspension bridges while others crosstrain like sled dogs, trying to run with a fullgrown man as an anchor birds fight for morsels of food from the slow current and fly to the muddy banks of cattails to hide and eat their meal.
there is a lacking to this.
it/s missing the headspun heralding of the crawling carousel of cafés and calles around the plaza mayor counting down the steps until you can see the patioed buildings and the pastel colored classical figures wrapped in grapevines looking down at the plaza and the tables and chairs spreading from the restaurants, voices muddled and contained are overpowered by the bizarre whistles of men selling selfie sticks under a large perforated fabric all pink and blue and red before the sun suspended from the tops of lampposts with lovelocks ringing their pedestals written all over with tragedy by the sad but beyond and through a darkened archway on the oldest street in madrid is blinding sun and the mercado de san miguel with its glass walls and crowded stalls of people moving for better views of the food in long display cases or somewhere to lean against an aluminum counter to eat with their hands from paper plates, you would drink sangria served from twenty gallon glass jars with floating apple pieces more tart than you expect so you pluck them from your drink with a wooden skewer and toss them to small brown birds in the rafters above you and you would walk to the plaza de las villas, the crest of spain carved in stone and mounted on the wall behind the bronze statue of a man on horseback, the scabbard on his hip hanging low over purple cabbage planted around the pedestal and further on you see the cathedral up the street but first you would stop at an irish pub because theres no excuse to take in religion on an empty stomach.
up a small set of stairs is a stone courtyard in the shade of the cathedral, on a bench is a bronze figure bundled under a sheet and inside you would hear ethereal music playing as you open the large wooden doors, it echoes from high cupolas and stainedglass windows as several colors of light bleed in and shine down on the golden crucifix standing on the main altar, behind it is the large wooden altar of the virgin of almudena showing the life and ministry of jesus and as you would climb the rounded stone staircase for a closer look you would see the huge organ pipes and rows of pews and the hollowed out campanillas, each with its own patron saint and electric candles glowing red, in a tuckedaway corner the chapel has frescoes of golden hues on its walls showing the three kings bearing gifts for the holy family, their features large and exaggerated and it/s hard to not just sit and listen to the haunting music but the sun is still up and there are more streets to wander back towards the puerta del sol and you would run into two violinists and a cellist playing frank sinatra on calle mayor as gutterpunks nearby have six plastic red cups out to solicit money, the names of different alcohols written across each and past them are little old women windowshopping in full length fur coats and beyond them the puerta del sol opens to bright sky and performance artists and people in costumes posing for pictures and bootleg handbags spread out on plastic tarps with string coming from the corners for a quick getaway if the police happen by so on you go past municipal buildings under construction and masked with scaffolding covered with webbed netting and you would smell roasting chestnuts and seared ears of corn until youre standing at the corner of paseo del prado and gran via watching jugglers wearing bowler hats performing in the street, throwing their tennis balls twenty feet into the air before lying in the crosswalks as the cars pulled to a stop at red lights.
there should be the night window literacy of sacred text streets written in oldhand that smoothbore the rowed buildings burning neon colors along the seam of the starless sky as you turn along the blinkandmiss corners following a beautiful argentine out for her birthday to a afterhours bar and of course you lose the people you came with because it/s 4am and your ten drink accent isnt getting you very far with your rapidly depleting vocabulary in the dark so you would dance your way through the crowd on the checkerboard dance floor, attracting the attention of an older woman that follows you to a table where youre speaking with a few gentlemen from peru and she would make the most obscene gesture towards you as you realize youre out of money and it/s yeah bye nice to meet you to the predawn streets shimmering in the streetlights on the walk to bed.
the streets always seem wet when there is no one around.
in dark bars after more cañas grandes than you expect, you would close huddle with a woman whose name you never intended to remember as the rest of the place bangs on the bar to salsa music and you two would talk about different cities she should visit in america, promising to watch the sun rise over the brooklyn bridge one day in the near future, using her smartphone translator for the more eloquent portions of your conversation, speaking quiet with folded hands and shoulders on soft skin, she would smell how sunflowers look in a field and you both knew this wasnt meant to last and afterwards on the sidewalk you would meet a newly arrived traveler from the ivory coast yelling up the building for a key to get in, this would be the most drunk you get and the neon sign of the matadero shines across the street in blurred red and through the tall plastic flaps at the entrance you would wander around the renovated slaughterhouse that now has artist residencies and a small movie theatre, you would have a caña and sit at a wooden picnic table and enjoy the sounds of traffic in the cool winter night air.
there would be unaccepted tarot readings from playing cards late at night with wine and bread and cheese bought from a gas station, surrounded by black and white photos of famous new york city bridges listening to punk rock covers of showtunes or singing villian songs from disney movies, trying to bounce a cork on the table so that it lands upright, you only get five attempts before it/s your turn to drink but this cant last forever because the next day youre going to the parque del buen retiro to sit with loose peacocks poking into low flowerbeds or listen as they stand on white trellises shouting their complaints to the day so on you would go and find people doing calisthenics in the shade of a blended brownburgundy tree cordoned off by a metal fence because its four hundred years old and you would kneel and pick up one of its fallen sprigs and place it in pages of poetry before hearing jazz standards past the dirt paths and low hedges and children chasing congregated pigeons which erupt in thunderous claps of wings as they fly over manicured plots of daisies around spurting fountains where birds youd never seen before peck at the dry loam next to green parrots as police pass riding large brown horses in front of the manmade lake filled with koi and people in row boats, behind them are huge stone statues to assorted royalty standing on stairs leading to the edge of the water and it/s not far to a satellite of the reina sofia and you would walk through the installation of prime number poetry written with straight lines mapped out on the floor, it looks like a circuit board but you would be more interested in playing blues on a paintedover piano, unfortunately there are rules regarding the touching of museum art so outside you would stroll, seeing the crystal palace through the trees and walk past a man playing por ti volare on a violin and then you hear american pie as you get closer to the shine between the trees and watch a marionette with a guitar go through the entirety of the song, the line is long around the crystal palace so you would keep going, hearing the laughter of children watching early afternoon puppet shows washes away some of the chill of the day and down the wide asphalt paths you would see people riding bikes or walking slowly with their hands behind their backs or exercising with leg lifts and hand cranks built by the city for public use, birthday parties for toddlers between a sparse clutch of trees with brown squirrels running through the scattered pine needles and leaf litter, the smell of running water around small rises of cypress trees as soccer is played within earshot in penned off fields fenced with tarped chainlink, through rolling mounds of pine and patchy low grass you would come across the end of the park and stroll down the several wooden sheds and folding tables of books and used postcards from the edges of the old eastern bloc already written on and mailed, by now you would be in sight of the atocha train station, its glass roof curved like an airplane hanger and set at the foot of curving stone stairs and filled with palm trees and ferns, a humid jungle beneath the strengthened sunshine showing misting water floating among the broad palm fronds until a shallow pool populated with leftbehind pet turtles all crowding together on small wooden squares of sand, you might try to name them but doing so would keep you from making your train to toldeo.
out of madrid the buildings turn to blasted expanses of crumbling earth stacked into smooth hills under heavy layered sky all blue and bright over the nameless homesteads and dirt roads traveling alongside the train tracks, tractors left out in the sun in plowed fields spotted with balanced stone shacks and barelyseen stretches of barbwire fence drenched in daylight and parched in the early afternoon exposure of yellowgreen treetops cyan by distance into sepia soaked dust of the rolling rises as scorcheddry topsoil melts to orange swaths sweeping away the passed window views, the strokes of brush anchoring the whipped grist from the arid mounds in the rushing overthere, sewing the horizon in languid lines windblown and polished with rising smoke from controlled burns of felled olive trees beside winding snakecreeks meandering through the faroff slender vales showing sky behind them, the slightslopes dressed by waves of large passing shadows.
you would feel like you could just reach up and grab the clouds if only the train would slow down.
there would be a wonderment at the stainedglass windows at the toledo train station where tourist kiosks want a few euro for a map but you would wander towards the river and find a walking path along its banks and you would see spurts of white water rushing over submerged stones before large grey stretches of rocky outcrops set into the opposite shore and from there you would see toledo on the hill across the river, its high walls and long stone staircase to the summit surrounded by small flowers and enormous aloe vera plants crumpled under their own weight but first you would have to cross the stone bridge with fortyfoot archways at either end. you would feel the burn in your legs as you ascend to the top and the grand views of the orange earth rolls away to small farms but downriver the road carves along the edge of green cliffs and ruins of stone still being washed over.
you would have sweat on your brow by the time you reach the tourist office, the cathedral dominating above the rim of the roofs and you only have to keep it in sight instead of relying on your map written in a different language, you would pass giftshops filled with damascus steel swords or numerous marzipan shops, one has a detailed miniature replica of the cathedral made from sugar, the crooked streets turn to stairs at whim and you would notice the peeling plaster and take photographs of doors while cars speed by on the narrow cobblestone streets heading uphill and in the shade of the cathedral you would eat in an underground restaurant, empty besides the legs of pigs hanging from the ceiling so with great confidence you would order a lomo bocadillo and a racion of tapas, the manchego cheese goes quickly, so does the chorizo tossed in stuffing, outside the sun shines down the long lines around the cathedral and you decide not to go in and instead sit in a small plaza nearby listening to a man playing numetal songs on a cello as roosting birds shoot from the shoulders of saints adorning the edifice of the cathedral.
down the other side of the hill is el greco/s home and in his garden of dry moorish fountains and small smooth stones and in the echoes of singing birds you would bend down, taking a stone home for your mother or write to your true love in new york city and watch children playing in a small dirt park at the edge of a cliff before wandering into cellars built centuries ago and are all thats left of a castle that once stood, in the house you would go the wrong way and see el greco/s thirteen apostles in wooden hallways leading downstairs, each holding their implements of death with serene faces, the kitchen and living quarters are period kept and the large ashgrey stone hearth has clay pots draped along its mantel from hooks with hemp rope.
and soon it/s back outside and across the street to the small dirt park and at the handrail you would lean over and look along the steep cliffs of grass and wildflowers to the running river and more ruins of fallendown bridges as birds fly from cracks in the rocky bluffs of the other bank, the sun drenched villas with the spanning views of toldeo look abandoned on the rolling ridges of cypress trees. you would walk down shadowed alleys of convents where the nuns make sweets from marzipan and you see suits of templar armor and a casual crucifix on a brick wall above toy crossbows with felt tipped arrowheads, the low buildings with christmas cactus plants behind iron grates over the windows of the old neighborhoods and over the crown of toldeo you would see the plain below and the escaping horizon of gold and brown and orange with spots of green around the farmhouses as you go down the stone stairs reading antitourist graffiti along the walls, seeing a herd of sheep grazing among the rocks on the banks of the river, their shepherd and sheepdog leaning against a sparse wooden fence quietly waiting in the sunshine as the sheep crowded wherever they discovered small flowers poking up but theres a train to catch back to madrid so you would have a quick meal and take the wrong seat on the train and are asked to move by its rightful occupants when all you want is to finish these postcards for back home.
there are still pieces missing.
there should be more confused corners. more art. you should feel the time drawing as you rush to the prado, on the metro you would stand next to an old man with an old accordian and on cue with the closing doors he plays loudly in the crowded train car, the leather of the accordian pitted and peeling and he smiles beneath a fewdays old beard so you would worm to the center of the car but heres your stop and through the tiled underground you follow signs to the exit and in pastel twilight you would stand in line waiting to get into the prado for free because youre not going to pay money to stand in rooms you hadnt been in since being in love and after a quick security check you aimlessly stroll through classical religious icons before standing in front of el greco or admiring a marble statue of a mother murdering her child before committing suicide, the sweethorror of terriblebeauty carved with flawless skill, the old triptychs of biblical stories not told on leaves and the incredible violence of the past and the hammeredhome reminder of mortality etched on canvas with oils by masters, the aged wood all goldengilded in brushed on dust, there would be crowds speaking all the languages of europe as art guides explain the importance of each piece loudly while more people push into the small galleries and take up the best real estate among the black paintings because there is nowhere else to go in this museum.
you would be corralled out while appreciating medieval wooden altars and large frescoes taken from churches somewhere deep in the countryside, finding yourself with thirst sitting under the statue of goya in the cool night air so away you astray and by accident stumble on the home of miguel de cervantes, it has a stone plaque on the building proclaiming he lived and died there on a tucked away side street of cafés and not much else but youre not far from the plaza de santa ana and the bar where hemingway used to sit and watch the world and you would find live music in a bar named after a beatles song, the dark walls covered with posters of rock gods but aside from your inherent distrust they give you free food and you stay to listen to the singer and guitarist duet, they play ella fitzgerald and johnny cash and of course you fall in love with her old world features forelit by white light singing your favorite songs to a halffilled room so far from home and soon they are accompanied by a flutist that melismas up and down scales in a rather impressive blazing solo, rounding out the sound of the duo and giving it real depth, but these things are all irrelevant because you would sit at your darkened table slackjawed and enraptured by the singer, trying to determine whether setting your passport on fire for her would be considered romantic or just a prudent life decision.
you would victory lap familiar neighborhoods as a consummate caucus racer chasing a finish line never in sight, stopping short in a bar where the walls are covered in black and white framed photographs of movie stars, some are obscure and you would try remembering the names of silent era actors with people sitting around the bar watching the soccer game on a television in the corner, you would sadly realize youre not as uptodate on the stars of golden age cinema and after the cañas and chorizo and olives and laughter and the sounds from the street you would remember it/s an early night and maybe the empanada stand is still open so foodinhand you would become a lone laggard on the walk to bed because in the morning you would have a quick goodbye to say to madrid at the legazpi metro station where at night the fountain in the middle of the plazas rotary is lit up in green, the color dancing on the falling water as cars pass in the dark, just silhouettes in the streetlight shadows.
and thats it. there is no more, no more to be thought, no deep meaning besides a searching hunger, no shouts from rooftops or groveling in the gutter, let alone some final truth or great epiphany, persian flaw potential rarely has answers towards the tailend of curtain call and it/s possible thats missing, a simple summation of the experience, a flashpoint spark of finality that wisps like white smoke into nowhere, left to the whim of a crossbreeze on a lonely street all blownfilled with loose pieces of paper and pooled billowing of dustclouds down the winding ways among the buildings. but thats not here. the only lessons you would learn are that beans are not called frijoles and that children speak the most pure form of spanish. not exactly an ending though maybe there isnt one, the heavyhearted always look for resolution in hiraeth, missing that the best memories are left behind in the grout of the sidewalks beside roses trying to grow from concrete, making it easier for you to go find them when walking back through your footsteps.
Brendan Connolly’s work has been featured by incessant pipe, OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters and River River Journal. He lives and writes in Salem, Ma.